Lawmakers try to alter voter-approved redistricting reforms

This article originally appeared in the Washington Post. Read it in its entirety here.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — With the census approaching, lawmakers in some states are attempting to alter recent voter-approved measures that were intended to reduce partisan gamesmanship when drawing new voting districts for the U.S. House and state legislatures.

In Missouri and Utah, Republican-led legislatures have advanced proposals to unravel key provisions in redistricting initiatives passed in 2018 before they can be used to draw new legislative maps next year. The Republican Party in Michigan is suing to strike down new prohibitions on politicians’ involvement in redistricting.

It’s not just Republicans who are questioning redistricting reforms. In Virginia, new Democratic majorities in the General Assembly have delayed action for months on a proposal to shift redistricting power from lawmakers to a new bipartisan commission. The plan won strong initial bipartisan approval last year, when Republicans narrowly controlled both chambers. The House has until Saturday, when its session ends, to take the final vote necessary to put the idea to the November ballot.

In Utah, supporters of the Better Boundaries initiative that won narrow approval in 2018 have agreed to a compromise with lawmakers to revise the original measure.

The new plan, which passed the Senate on Tuesday, would drop a requirement that the Legislature take an up-or-down vote on the redistricting maps developed by a new bipartisan commission and provide a formal explanation if it chooses not to adopt them. Lawmakers contended that would infringe on their constitutional powers.

The new legislation would also repeal a requirement to use a statistical “partisan symmetry” test to ensure districts do not unduly favor any political party, instead directing the advisory commission to develop its own standards against political favoritism. The House has until its March 12 adjournment to pass the plan.

Republican Sen. Curt Bramble, who is sponsoring the revision, said the directive for partisan symmetry was unclear and subjective.

“We have maintained the core of the initiative — the independent redistricting committee, the funding of it — but we have removed those areas that have been problematic,” Bramble said.

Rebecca Chavez-Houck, a former Democratic state House member who is executive director of Utah’s Better Boundaries, said the group agreed to the legislative changes to avoid the potential for the measure to be completely repealed or drastically weakened.

But the left-leaning nonprofit Alliance for a Better Utah remains skeptical of the deal.

“The question for the Utah public is, does this give us more transparency and accountability than Prop. 4 did, or less? The answer is obviously less,” said alliance Policy Director Lauren Simpson, referring to the law by its name on the 2018 ballot, Proposition 4.

This article originally appeared in the Washington Post. Read it in its entirety here.

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